"Paladins are for masochists," say the wise elders on pally boards and blogs. "You either spec healbot and can never farm, spec ret and can never find a group, or spec prot and spend half your time trying to convince people that prot pallies can actually tank. You're either being ordered around by your raid leader and tank or wandering in the wilderness soloing stuff."
As I was leveling my paladin, I began to feel that this statement had some truth to it. Ret had nice, big numbers, but I couldn't take on many mobs, had to heal a lot, and found myself constantly out of mana. Holy ... well, I didn't have enough talent points yet to take Holy Shock, and I didn't even want to know how tough leveling would be with a spec mostly invested in healing. Then one day, while talking to some other belfadins, I discovered the wonders of protection AOE, the most sadistic spec in paladindom.
Prot AOE is a spec that becomes viable at around level 35, but really shines at level 40, when you can pick up Holy Shield. Non-paladins often think that "AOE paladins" are just using Consecration, but it's not that simple. In fact, we rarely use actual AOE spells at all. The principle behind prot AOE is reflective damage while fighting large numbers of mobs. By using shield spikes, Holy Shield and Blessing of Sanctuary, you have a high chance to block incoming attacks, and each of those blocked attacks will do serious damage to your attacker. At the same time, by using fast weapons and sealing and judging Light and Wisdom as needed, you keep up your health and mana. And since you've got so many mobs hitting you, Reckoning procs often, which is more DPS on your target.
It's slow at killing single targets (hint: bring a two-hander along), casters are a nightmare because they don't "hit" your shield, and you'll constantly get people coming along trying to save you from all the nasty mobs, but it's a great spec for a certain kind of personality. By which I mean the sort of personality that enjoys watching your opponents futilely beat themselves to death on your shield while you sit back and replenish your health and mana on their tears, which is the sort of personality I have. I spent about the first two levels of prot grinding just laughing maniacally every time another murloc or ogre doomed themselves by hitting me.
Basically, the sequence of events for prot AOE is this:
- Cut a hole in the box.
I'm sorry. Let's try that again.
- Go to the trainer and respec. Put at least 31 points into prot. Make sure to get Blessing of Sanctuary, Holy Shield, Redoubt and Reckoning. Imp Holy Shield is also great if you can get it (if you're putting more than 31 points in prot.)
- Put on a sword/mace/axe and shield. The weapon should be fast -- around 2.0 speed is nice -- and if it can proc extra attacks, so much the better. The shield should have a high block value and a shield spike attached (any blacksmith can attach these if you buy them off the AH.) The rest of your gear ... eh. Plus damage is nice, as are stamina and other defensive stats, but prot grinding depends a lot more on your weapon and shield than your armor. We'll discuss this later.
- Find a nice-looking group of mobs. Preferably, they'll be melee fighters and clustered closely together. Bonus points if they don't run away at low health and if they have fast attack speeds. Iloveari's prot grinding guide has some good tips for mobs to grind on, but you can also just do quest mobs and level in the normal fashion.
- Put Blessing of Sanctuary and Retribution Aura on yourself.
- Pull the mobs. This can be done by using Avenger's Shield, charging headfirst into the group, or (a sentimental favorite) using Linken's Boomerang. Pick one mob to focus on first.
- Hit Holy Shield.
- Seal and judge Light on your target.
- The next part is dependent on the fight. If you have a ton of mana, aren't being hit hard, and want to burn your targets down quickly, you can seal Righteousness and Consecrate. This works really well if you have a lot of spell damage gear, because then you can use a low rank of Consecrate and still get a great spell damage bonus for less mana. If you're worried about running out of mana, you can seal or judge Wisdom along with Light. If you've somehow got a caster mixed up in the bunch, you can Hammer of Justice him and take him down first. If you've managed to pull runners, you can judge Justice on them to keep them from wandering. Then again, why do you want to keep them from running to the next group? More adds = more damage = more speedy kills. Just keep Holy Shield and some form of Light up and you'll be fine.
- If you're doing okay and feel like mixing things up, you can switch to another target once your primary target is down to 25-35 percent of their health, and let the reflective damage kill them. Or, if you're getting worried, you can just stick with the first target and switch to another once the first one drops.
- Repeat until everything in sight is dead. If you need to drink or eat between pulls, go ahead. If something horrible happens, remember that you're a paladin! You've got bubbles, you've got healing spells, you've got the great "Oh my God I'm going to die" button of Lay On Hands.
As I mentioned before, having great gear isn't super-important for prot grinding, although there is a good list of gear here. Right now, I have an AOE grinding set that mixes up base paladin stats (stam, str, int) with warrior tanking stats (defense, block) and spell damage. While paladins who tank instances usually use warriorish tanking gear with a spell damage sword, I do the reverse for AOE grinding -- a fast, higher DPS sword/axe/mace with some spell damage gear. But the most important part of your prot grinding is your shield. You want something nice here. A high shield block value and an increase in block rating are great in pally AOE shields. Especially nice are the shields out there that have a proc effect on a block or an incoming attack. With a shield with a damage proc, you can have four sources of damage (Holy Shield, shield spike, Sanct and proc) on every block. I've omitted the shields that are only obtained from level 60 raids, just because I don't think many people are going to get a group to go into MC to grab them the Drillborer Disk. From lowest level to highest level, these are:
- Thermaplugg's Central Core, 5 percent chance to deal 35-65 nature damage when struck
- Vile Protector, 1 percent chance to deal 105-175 shadow damage when struck
- The Green Tower, 1 percent chance to raise a shield that deals nature damage when struck
- Wall of the Dead, 3 percent chance to increase armor for 20 seconds when struck
- Skullflame Shield, 3 percent chance to steal 35 life and 1 percent chance to do AOE fire damage when struck
- Crest of Retribution, deals 5 to 35 damage on every block
- Force Reactive Disk, does AOE lightning damage on blocks but shield is also damaged.
- Level 60 Epic PVP Shield, 5 percent chance to do 35-65 nature damage when struck
- Petrified Lichen Guard, poisons for 12 nature damage every 3 seconds for 12 seconds, stacking up to 5 times, every time you block. Probably the best shield for this enterprise, and easy to get too!
There are also a couple of pieces of armor and trinkets with similar procs:
- Demon Forged Breastplate, 3 percent chance to steal 120 life when struck
- Force of Will, 1 percent chance to reduce all melee damage taken by 25 when struck
- Darkmoon Card: Vengeance, 10 percent chance to deal 95-155 holy damage when struck by melee or spell
- Alembic of Infernal Power, 2 percent chance to gain 260 mana when struck
- Figurine of the Colossus, on use each block for 20 seconds heals you for 120.
A lot of good information on AOE grinding can be found on the paladin forums. Belenus's "Help me pick a grinding shield" and Iloveari's "Guide to Prot Leveling Spec and AOE Hotspots!" were both very helpful.
Paladins, have you tried prot grinding for leveling or for level 70 moneymaking/factions? How do you like it compared to ret and holy methods of leveling and grinding?